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nov 09, 2017

This Brazilian start-up is revolutionizing children’s literature

Back in 2012, frustrated with her career in journalism, Samira Almeida had an idea when she first began writing about entrepreneurship initiatives. At the time, her husband Fernando Tangi was working as a designer and illustrator in a publishing house. Noting the popularity of smartphones and tablets, the pair had an idea: why not create a more interactive reading experience for kids, using sounds and animations to better engage children with stories?

This gave birth to the pair’s enterprise, StoryMax. Today, the app has published six books in multiple languages, and has readers in more than 40 countries across the world. StoryMax has also received prestigious national and international awards, including the ComKids Prix Jeunesse Iberoamericano prize in the Digital and Interactive category and the Hypertext Award of Technologies in Education. Another book – ‘The Milky Way’ based on an Olavo Bilac sonnet – earned StoryMax a second place award in the Digital Infant category of the Jabuti Prize.

“We discussed how to adapt books to a digital format, but what was being done with children’s books was completely bland, black and white and without any interactivity,” Almeida told Draft magazine. Unfortunately, back in 2012, publishers had their doubts about the idea.

Almeida and Tangi decided to produce a prototype independently. Within three months, they had created a bilingual, interactive version of Frankenstein called ‘Frankie for Kids’. Their interactive version received more than 3,000 downloads within its first few months, giving it equivalent sales to printed books.

The couple were spurred on by their success, chosen to participate in the 2014 Campus Party technology incubator and then for Seed (Startups and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development), an acceleration program run by the Minas Gerais state government. Seed allowed the pair to improve their business model, building business partnerships and exploring funding channels. The result was a 400-percent increase in sales volume in 2014, and by 2015 StoryMax had its first institutional partnerships, with the Goethe Institut and Literatour.

Almeida credits the pair’s initial focus on cross-platform compatibility with the success of StoryMax. “An e-book needs to be readable by the maximum number of reader systems and digital publishers,” she told Draft. “An app doesn’t need to be compatible because it interacts directly with the device.”

StoryMax has had success in its home country, with its products present in dozens of schools across the public school network. But it has enjoyed even greater successes outside of Brazil: 70 percent of its customers are based in the US, and it is continually receiving project interest from international partners such as Danish biotechnology multinational Novozymes.

The team is currently made up of five people: Almeida and Tangi as StoryMax’s two partners, plus one publisher, one illustrator and one developer. But the pair have high hopes for StoryMax’s future. “This year we want to expand the impact of our free products, upgrade our paid apps and invest time in our relationship with customers and partners,” said Almeida.

“We want StoryMax, in addition to delivering the stories in an engaging format, to be a platform that helps build the habit of reading.”